May 21, 2016
To continue our DIY Santa Cruz Trek, here’s the third and final installment (mehganon?). Warning: Tons of donkey photos.
Have you seen a donkey up close? Have you seen super cute donkeys up close? Their cuteness is life-changing. Donkeys, like cows, on the mountains are very common. They are the secret weapon of any good outfitter. Tourists joining group tours have to thank not only their guides but also these loveable, fluffy creatures. If you could only see the amount of loads they carry on their backs, it’s insane. No wonder donkeys are called the original beasts of burden.
I love donkeys. I first loved them when I saw loads of them up close in the highlands of Cusco on our way to Machu Picchu (July 2014). Did you know that donkeys have incredible memory? I didn’t. But that explains why they can travel on mountainous terrains even sans guide. They know exactly where they’re going!
Okay enough about donkeys. They’re so cute it’s too distracting.
So, day three of our DIY Santa Cruz trek. Got out of tent at 7 am, played and took way too many selfies with donkeys, ate breakfast, cooked the remaining bag of bacon from our supplies, cooked pasta (for lunch), fetch water, broke camp. We also had a mini reunion with Leon who turned out to be camping on the other side where we were camped. He was headed for Alpamayo on a last minute decision so he’d be staying an extra night.
In Taullipampa we camped beside this group with massive tents for mess halls. They also own the two curious donkeys that visited our tent. Chatted with the guides, too, who were really nice.
A glimpse of Nevado Artesonraju said to be the mountain depicted in Paramount Pictures.
Taullipampa wins as the campsite with the best views as it is surrounded by towering mountain peaks. A side trip to Alpamayo peak would have been nice but we were strapped with time. For now we’ll have to make do with distant views of them.
I was surprised to come upon arid, open valleys in the middle of nowhere. Still, small creeks and waterfalls cascading on the side of the mountains could be seen here and there. At some point you will cross a river running in the desert-like valley. Keep that river to your right.
The sceneries are so lovely I often daydreamed I was living inside JRR Tolkien’s world. The cows are still a fixture in this part of the valley, we even found animal skulls along the way.
We passed by two lakes, Laguna Jatuncocha and Laguna Ichiccocha. Laguna Jatuncocha had that bright green colour though not as impressive as Laguna Taulliraju’s while Laguna Ichicocha was pretty much filled with reeds. I loved the part when we were hiking and Laguna Jatuncocha was a fixture on our right.
We stopped for lunch in Llamacoral campsite which turned out to be a very quick one as strong but quick downpour fell in the middle of our lunch break.
The last section towards Cashapampa was not too difficult but there certainly were challenges. Trails are either made up of loose gravel, pebbles, and stones or rocks that really hurt the feet after trudging on them for hours. The cows are still everywhere, desert landscape made way for lush greens, raging rivers to water irrigation canals.
We arrived in Cashapampa at 5 pm happy that we would make it back to Huaraz just in time to return the sleeping bags we rented (I didn’t want to pay rent for another night that’s why I was so adamant to be back in Huaraz before 8pm!). I was being optimistic. Too optimistic.
The thing with faraway and little villages is that public transportations can be quite unreliable. Numerous people promised us that there would be colectivos that could take us from Cashapampa to Caraz. We waited for 30 minutes, no colectivo passed. I was getting antsy by the minute. It was getting dark and colder.
A car arrived and parked in front of the waiting area where we were seated. The driver tried to give us a pretty exorbitant price, I declined the offer but he hung around (he had a local passenger inside mind you!). The Italian couple drinking in a restaurant across where we were approached the driver and managed to haggle a better price for everyone. We agreed and got our bags in the car. First, we had to drop the lone passenger in the next town before turning back again towards the direction of Caraz.
I had no idea of the conditions of the road on this side of the earth but while looking out the window my heart skipped a beat. The view from my window was frightening but beautiful. Steep, unpaved roads were carved out of the mountains where our driver drove in a, erm, fast and furious way simultaneously answering calls from his mobile in one hand while steering the wheel with the other hand. We descended an entire mountain face with hairpin curves before finally reaching the bustling town of Caraz. Contrary to the what I had in mind, Caraz was a big and busy town. The driver dropped us in front of the colectivo terminal going to Huaraz.
To cut the story short, we arrived in Huaraz half past eight. I just about gave up in returning our rented sleeping bags as the shop closes at 8pm but I went anyway to try our luck. I’m so pleased to have found out that they were still open!
On to dinner. We’ve been looking forward to stuffing our faces off with foods that we could only dream about while hiking Santa Cruz. I wanted Jollibee-like fried chicken but tough luck on finding that here so I settled for their version of fried chicken. JC’s was a no-brainer. Chifa is his happy food in Peru. :)) We rarely drink sodas but on few special occasions, such as completing a 3-day hike usually done in four, we indulged.
And that concludes an adventure-filled three days spent on the mountains of Santa Cruz. Believe me when I say it’s an experience worth all the physical pain. 🙂
Santa Cruz trek Day 3 Expenses:
Santa Cruz – Caraz collectivo – 10 Soles/person
Caraz – Huaraz collectivo – 6 Soles/person
Chifa dinner (with Sprite) – 23 Soles
Taxi fare to hostel – 3 Soles